It's like one of the spaceships on the cover of an old ELO record crash-landed in the wasteland suburbs of California to smolder between the Wal-Mart and the KFC — Grandaddy's songs begin where yesterday's shiniest dreams burn and die. Jason Lytle, the brains behind the band, retools space-racing '70s prog-pop into bummed out trance-rock, music that's just as transporting but with a woozy sense of post-modern malaise. His albums are populated with drunken robots, people who'd rather spend time with machines than humans, late summer road trips that never quite find the horizon. As the Steinbeckian wordplay in the title of his band's fourth and final album suggests, his characters are folks on the American margins.
But rather than cling to fantasies of promise, they'd rather escape into the strange magic of their messy heads, like slacker Tom Joads with crap temp jobs, cool record collections and barely enough fight in 'em to fire up the bong. On songs like "Jeez Louse" and "Elevate Myself," synths and guitars coalesce warmly with Lytle's Muppet-like voice, and the music teeters between ethereal take-off and an existential failure to launch. "Summer… It's Gone" celebrates loss with chiming bells and wistful acoustic strumming. "Rear View Mirror" rocks out as Lytle tries to "drive somewhere real and nearer," only to go in circles.
This is both Grandaddy's draftiest record and its most confused, which is saying something for a guy who once wrote a nine-minute song about time travel. But Lytle's still too in love with the power of plugging in, and with the odd beauty of human error, to let himself (or the listener) fade into sallow defeat. As much as he'd love to lift off, our ruined world is his world too.